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Sri Lankan Government Responds to Attack That Kills 290

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  • A series of eight bombings killed 290 people in Sri Lanka and injured hundreds more.
  • Three of the bombs went off in churches on Easter Sunday.
  • The attacks are believed to have been carried out by a local extremist group called National Thowheeth Jamath, and authorities were warned of the attacks ahead of time, but never alerted the Prime Minister.
  • The government is enforcing a curfew throughout the capital and has also blocked several social media sites to prevent the spread of false information.

What Happened?

A series of eight bombings killed 290 people in Sri Lanka and injured at least 500 others on Easter Sunday.

In the country’s capital, Colombo, four attacks were located at hotels and another was at a housing complex. The remaining three bombings were carried out at churches during Easter mass. The churches were located in Colombo, Batticaloa, and Negombo.

Since the bombings happened on Easter, officials believe it was specifically targeting the Christian community in the country. Christianity is a smaller religion in Sri Lanka. Only 1.5 million of the country’s 21 million people practice it.

While the attacks occurred in popular tourist areas, most of the victims were citizens of Sri Lanka. Right now, authorities say 39 foreigners were killed.

Police believe that all the explosions were carried out by suicide bombers. No group has claimed the attack. However, police say a local extremist group, National Thoweeth Jamath, is behind the attacks. Twenty-four people have been arrested in relation to Sunday’s events so far. Officers have also recovered 87 detonators at a bus station in Colombo.

According to Sri Lanka’s government news site, INTERPOL is being sent to the country to investigate. The country will be in a state of emergency through midnight local time on Monday.

Warnings of Attack Went Ignored

Government officials say that they were alerted of the attacks two weeks in advance. A spokesperson said they received several warnings that specifically cited potential church bombings by NJT, and even listed suspects names.

The warnings were passed through relevant areas of the police department and to security services, but the information never made its way to the Prime Minister or his cabinet. Authorities took no action against NJT, and it is unclear if they took separate precautions to look into or prevent the attack.

Rajitha Senaratne, a government spokesperson, said that they would be looking into the government’s failure to respond.

“We saw the warnings and we saw the details given.” he added during a press conference. “We are very very sorry, as a government we have to say, we have to apologize to the families and the institutions about this incident.”

Authorities said the warnings they received indicated a much smaller attack. NJT is a newer, smaller group known for having anti-Buddhism beliefs. Buddhism is the most popular religion in Sri Lanka, and the group has been linked to incidents of Buddhist statues being vandalized or destroyed. They do not have a reputation for carrying out attacks of this level.  Because of this, officials believe a larger international network must also be behind the attack.

Government Enacts a Curfew And Social Media Ban

In an effort to prevent further attacks, the government enacted a curfew in Colombo. The curfew lasts from 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. and was enforced on Sunday and Monday. It is unclear if they will continue to apply it in the following days.

The government has also shut down several social media sites following the attack. In a statement posted on the government news site, they said, “false news reports were spreading through social media.” They hope that by banning these platforms, they will stop the spread of misinformation.

The statement said that the sites would be back up after investigations close. They cited that Instagram and Facebook would be specifically blocked, but users in the country have also said they are unable to access messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber.

Viber released a statement on Twitter sending condolences to the victims of the attacks and warning local residents to read reports with caution.

Some residents are feeling frustrated by the blocks because they want to communicate with friends and family and confirm that they are safe.

One Colombo resident told The Washington Post that her friends from other countries were unable to reach her.

“I have had friends in London trying to contact me through both (WhatsApp and FaceBook),” she said. “And I can’t see them or message anybody.”

International Leaders Respond

As the news was breaking of the tragedy, several world leaders spoke out. President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States is “ready to help!”

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country recently received global assistance after the iconic Notre Dame cathedral caught fire, reached out to Sri Lanka. He told the country that “all of our solidarity” is with its people.

Pope Frances also gave a statement. “I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka],” he said. “Wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Guardian)

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100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says

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Image via Pixabay
  • On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
  • Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
  • Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard. 
  • The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.

Some Americans Left Behind

A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.

When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.

While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.

The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.

On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”

“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.

“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.

Overlapping Jurisdiction

The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.

The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.

The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.

While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.

While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.

Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.

See what others are saying: (Engadget) (The Verge) (Gizmodo)

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Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition

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  • At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
  • Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Growing Violence Across Myanmar

Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.

According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.

The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.

Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.

Sanctions May Not Work

The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.

At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.

Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”

“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.

See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)

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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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